Anyone who knows me can tell you that I have always been a Christmas fanatic. Christmas albums comprise my largest collection of music which I listen to year round. I start my countdown in October. I buy beautiful holiday wrapping paper despite my hatred of wrapping gifts. I put my tree up before Thanksgiving. AND I adore Christmas movies, which is why I wanted to share a list of my favorites for this blogathon.
In speaking of this holiday, I must admit, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. No trendy flocked tree for me this year, I’m sticking with my favorite red and gold. I love the aspect of the holiday which celebrates family over busyness, thoughtfulness over commercialism. And I still believe that the real reason for the season is the birth of Jesus.
All that to say, in making my list, I was surprised that contemporary films outnumber the classics on my list. As a classic film fan, I’ve made it a point to watch as many of those as I can. But I also find it encouraging that despite my moaning of how they “just don’t make them like they used to”, that at least as far as Christmas is concerned, that just is not true.
So here is my somewhat eclectic list of favorite holiday films, many of which I’ve written about before. Some I’ve seen more times than I can count. Others are newer discoveries. My hope is that in sharing them, you might also discover some new favorites yourself and also enjoy the simple values they feature. Because these values aren’t just for Christmas but all throughout the year.
MY TEN FAVORITE CHRISTMAS FILMS
This Barbara Stanwyck comedy just may be the Christmas movie I’ve watched the most. I never get tired of watching this fake Martha Stewart type forced into hosting her publisher, a wounded war vet and her new fiance she doesn’t love during the holidays while also trying to hide the fact that she is nothing like her public image. She’s a phony, but a lovable one as is her adorable “Uncle Felix” played by one of my favorite character actors S.Z. Zakall. Felix is the real “Martha Stewart” and the secret behind Stanwyck’s character’s success. But he’s also a meddling cupid who can’t help trying to push Stanwyck and the war vet together. The humor in this film is fun, from Felix constant utterings of “hunky dunky” to Stanwyck’s increasingly ridiculous efforts to hide the truth. And although everything works out for this faux domestic goddess, she is forced to confront whether it’s better to maintain a lie or risk the truth. Her dilemma is relatable. Haven’t we all wondered at some point if people would still love us once they knew the real truth about who we are?
My full review.
Here’s another holiday film whose story is built around a lie, albeit a well-intentioned one. A lonely young woman rescues a man she’s loved from afar from certain death. She then claims to be his fiance in order to get information about him while at the hospital. A nurse introduces her to the man’s family as his fiance and they embrace her like family. In the process. she finds herself falling for his brother. I love how this movie explores the importance of family and forces the viewer to consider the loneliness of those who have none, especially during the holiday season. Lucy isn’t a bad person in any way. However, her yearning to belong and a little white lie see her gain what she desperately wants, although at a price to her conscience. This picture is made even better by the performances of Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman in the lead roles. They play Lucy and brother Jack as just so darn likeable. But they are also surrounded by an excellent supporting cast that includes Peter Boyle, Peter Gallagher, Jack Warden, Glynis Johns and Micole Mercurio, who nail the depiction of a loving but imperfect family.
Look, I know sometimes Hallmark movies get a bad rap for being predictable, cheesy and overly cliched. And I can admit that there is some basis for that. However, they also create some heart-warming, uplifting films and this is one of them. In fact, in my opinion, it is the best of them. Christmas with Holly is absolutely adorable. Set on an island off the coast of Seattle, we find a young woman who after being stood up at the altar, takes the risk to pursue a lifelong dream. We also meet a young man who has inherited the care of his traumatized niece after his beloved sister dies. It is inevitable that these two will meet and eventually fall in love. But the way it happens is endearing. I particularly love the Three Men and a Little Lady vibes as our hero requires the help of his two brothers to help him adjust to becoming an instant father. The bond between these disparate brothers is touching and they way they tease and bicker is so true to life. Not to mention, it’s hard not to sigh over their earnest concern for their young niece, even while they sometimes struggle to connect with her. This one is a must-watch for me every year. Here are a few more of my favorite television Christmas movies.
Nicholas Cage stars in this updated reversal of It’s a Wonderful Life. He’s a man who has it all, success, wealth, women. But a mysterious stranger gives him the chance to experience the other side of that coin. He wakes up and finds himself married to his college sweetheart, living in the suburbs with two kids and working literally in a “mom and pop” store. Look, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with career success and wealth, but I also think it is no substitute for love and true relationship with others. I do appreciate how this film shows Cage’s character struggling with a lack of career fulfillment despite the presence of love and family in his life. It’s an interesting struggle that I believe many people face. On a final note, this is the movie that began my film crush for Don Cheadle.
How can this picture be over ten years old already?! Nancy Meyers, one of the greatest female film directors of our time, explores the lives of two women who agree to a holiday house swap that eventually changes their lives. I’ve already written about some of the reasons I fell in love with this one including the character played by the great Eli Wallach, a staple of classic films. However, what really cemented this picture in my heart is Iris’ journey from a woman who finds her worth in an unworthy man to one who eventually learns she is worth being loved for herself. Her growth in confidence is aided of course by her friendship with her elderly neighbor played by Wallach. It’s just a beautiful journey to watch and one which was particularly familiar to me as I’ve also learned we cannot expect to find our identity in others’ treatment or opinion of us.
Some may consider this WWI set flick an unusual choice for a Christmas favorite. It depicts the real historical Christmas truce between Allied and Axis troops which saw them celebrate the holiday together by caroling, playing football, exchange of provisions and of the dead. It provides a picture of how easily men who are enemies can become friendly thereby proving the waste of war. These men have no personal grievances, but are simply cogs in a military machine. It’s both a sobering and also encouraging film which shows what kindness, compassion and mutual understanding can accomplish in bringing people together. The spirit of Christmas is also the spirit of love and reconciliation.
A grieving, disillusioned minister in the midst of a faith crisis, becomes the vicar of a small country village. There he must promote the faith he now doubts. He is challenged by his interest in a lovely agnostic as well as a village full of people who believe in the legend of a special Christmas candle which bestows a miracle upon its’ recipient. I really appreciate how this film features a hero who is not at all at peace with the celebration of the season and yet who must set an example due to his position. Not everyone anticipates Christmas with joy. Many deal with challenges that overwhelm them, from a wayward family member, to an unexpected pregnancy, from uncertainty to grief. This picture encompasses all the human emotions that people experience which sometimes make the holidays something to ignore or dread. And yet, the truth that there is always light (no matter how small) to be found in the midst of darkness, is one of hope that we all need.
A very recent release, this has quickly become a personal favorite, partially thanks to the theme that “no one is useless, who lightens the burdens of another.” I love the unique perspective that it gives of Dickens’ creation of The Christmas Carol. Whether or not the story may have been influenced by his own life, I do enjoy seeing how it could be possible. Not to mention, this version of Scrooge played by Christopher Plummer, is my favorite interpretation of the character so far. There is also an important message about how unforgiveness keeps us chained to the past and how forgiveness sets us free which is always a good reminder around the holidays.
I honestly cannot fathom, why this one isn’t better known. It’s absolutely delightful. It reminds me a bit of The Parent Trap in that it features a young girl trying to reunite her parents who are secretly still in love with each other. Of course, misunderstanding and a meddling mother keep them apart. Both Errol Flynn and Eleanor Parker display excellent comedic talent as the parents, enough so that I really wish they both had made more comedies in their careers. Though Christmas isn’t the focus of the film, it has a presence, especially in the double Santa scene which brings to mind the I Love Lucy episode where she “mirrors” Harpo Marx. Once again S.Z Sakall plays a Cupid role along with the couple’s young daughter. This one doesn’t really emphasize a deep message, but rather offers a light hearted escape from some of the more intense, demanding aspects Christmas can present. When you find yourself stressed, exhausted and wishing to opt out of all the holiday preparations, I dare you to watch this and not find yourself revived and your spirits lifted.
What an absolutely pleasant surprise this Lifetime film turned out to be! It’s subtle message of faith and divine intervention is slightly atypical of the channel, but its’ look at a disintegrating marriage is not. Still, it handles the subject with compassion and balance. The couple on the verge of divorce start re-evaluating their relationship with the arrival of an unexpected, precocious visitor whom only they can see. And yet, their young visitor helps both of them to see each other through new eyes, while also coming to terms with past wounds and grievances. I really appreciate the fact that this film shows two people fighting for their marriage even while they wonder if it is salvagable. And while it’s not your typical depiction of redemption, isn’t that one of the things Christmas is all about? The redeeming of what seems lost?
I know, I know. This is an unusual choice for a list of holiday films. But, my family has a tradition every year during Christmas of binge-watching these two series together, so in my mind it qualifies. And in all fairness it does include a few brief holiday scenes, albeit without all the usual trimmings. The beloved story of an orphan yearning and eventually learning to belong reminds us to never give up on the desires of our hearts. It also spotlights how one person can make a huge difference in the life of another in both small and large ways.
A special thank you to the Brannan sisters of The Pure Entertainment Preservation Society for allowing me to participate in their Happy Holidays Blogathon. Please stop by their website for more entries celebrating Christmas movies.
All photos sourced from IMDb.